Today in church I learned that the goal of life is to get saved and wait for Jesus to come back. I could pray that it happens a little too, if I decide. And while I wait I should bash other people for their theology on matters of end times, that don’t really matter. So, that’s what I am going to do, but also point out some more important lessons we should be learning in church.
So, I am already saved. I was baptized by someone who was baptized by someone who was baptized by someone. . . you get the point. This is how the new covenant works, water is thicker than blood, the water of baptism. Wine is thicker than blood, the wine of the Lord’s Supper. This is not an ethnic thing. Which makes me wonder about the Jews today, who are supposedly an ethnic thing. How do they know. The common thread of Christendom is fairly obvious today. There were the early church fathers, and many splits, but though the tree has many branches there is one root, one foundation. Jesus the Christ and his apostles. How do Jews today know they are Jews? The records are all gone, there are no more Matthew 1 type genealogies. Which tribe are you from? No one knows. All they have to go on is that their parents were Jews, or maybe they can even trace back a few generations. But like the Church, today their connection is purely ritualistic or cultural. There is no proof of the ethnic part. I suppose we could do DNA research, but I doubt that will help us to determine which tribe is which, a key and necessary part of tribal, ethnic distinctions.
So, I’m in the right club, check. I occasionally pray the Lord’s Prayer, especially when I am visiting Presbyterian churches so, check again. Now onto bashing other people’s theology. I was raised in the same church I currently attend. I know what they believe I have heard it my whole life. I understand Dispensationalism. Lobbing grenades from a fortress is fine in tribal warfare, but someone honestly attempting to understand another perspective has to try a different tactic. If you want to have an honest debate with different ideas, you need to understand the ideas. It’s easy to make absurd categorical statements about someone who disagrees with you, it’s difficult to truly understand what makes them tick. This requires hard work, imagination and humility. We all think we are right, that’s what having an idea means. If it’s wrong we throw it out. Ideas are in people and people are in contexts, always. That’s just how it works. And it’s not just something you do in philosophy, it applies to how you read the Bible. These people lived in a different time and different place with different evils. Their arguments and actions were not written to us, in order to learn from them we must translate their actions into our own time. Otherwise we just end up with a mess. Fortunately the tradition of the Church has made this work easier than other areas of study. They have been translating and commenting on scripture these 2000 years and passing it on. As opposed to some other texts we dig up, like some of the Dead Sea scrolls. We have to guess at their meaning because we are separated hundreds of years from the last comments about them. We don’t know why they wrote these things or why these issues were important the way we do with the canon of Scripture. We just have to guess.
On the other hand, if we can’t even honestly understand what people across town are preaching from their pulpits, how do we think we have the right to understand scripture? Especially given the nature of the New Covenant. It was to expand. It was for all tongues and tribes and nations. Like with all honest inquiry, don’t just take someone’s word for it, read what these people actually write, listen to what they say, get to know them. Honestly try to figure out their context and what they are trying to do. I have done this with many other faith traditions, Catholics, Covenant Theologians or Anglicans, current and past. And I must say our fortress mentality looks more ridiculous every day.
As to our text in Mark 13. People don’t just think these events happened in A.D. 70 because they are stupid. They believe it because verse 30 says “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” In addition many of them follow the tradition passed down from the Apostles more faithfully than we dispensationalists do. Most of our forefathers believed that the Church was the new Israel, the people of God on this earth, including the Apostles in Acts. Which is why there was so much early controversy about whether or not you had to become a Jew first in order to be a Christian. We see it in Acts, Galatians and Hebrews.
Understanding a text or an idea requires not only that you know something about the speaker, but about yourselves. If you find yourself hating black people, because that’s what you have always done, and what your parents have always done, you might just think that’s how it is. But if you look down and observe you are wearing a Nazi uniform, and realize that not everyone wears that uniform, past or present, if you consider what that means, you can begin to see that hating black people is part of your bias. In fact it’s a new thing that no one really thought about much before Darwin told the world that white people evolved from black people. We American Evangelical Christians in 2015 have many biases. The most stark bias is against anything old. We think anything new must be better and so it’s how we treat Mark, we throw out the old covenant theology for the new dispensationalism. We also have a big disadvantage with every non-modern text. We can’t relate. Poetry is almost gone in our culture. We treat every text as if it were a scientific treatise. This is not how pre-moderns wrote at all.
When Revelation says that the blood flowed as high as the horses bridles, we get out our meter sticks (even yard sticks are too archaic, a true modern uses the metric system). We measure and if the blood is a few millimeters short we move on and look for fulfillment somewhere else. The author of Revelation would laugh in our face, or cry. We have missed the point, the meaning.
I have already given an overview of what is happening here but what about the language used in these verses:
“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” Mark 13:24-27
Now look down at your modern uniform and realize that you have many biases. You think this means that some astronomical event must come. You look of the Greek words and try to figure out how many stars have to fall to fulfill this prophecy. Did that meteor shower last week qualify? Then you use the terms as technical terms to cross reference with other verses, especially in Revelation. That’s the juicy stuff.
But pre-moderns would see this as a painting with words. When do you see sun moon and stars previously in scripture? It sounds like Genesis to me, when the sun moon and stars are put in the heavens. Now they fall. This is the end of the world. But it doesn’t even have to be the whole actual, physical world. The context is the destruction of the temple of Israel. This is the end of the Jewish age, which was the end of the world to the Jews. Then we see the Son of Man, Jesus coming in glory. We are told that woman is the glory of man(I Corinthians 11:7). The Church is the bride of Christ, we are his glory.(Ephesians 5:25-27) The cloud is a symbol of his presence just like the cloud that descended on the temple.(Exodus 33:9, Exodus 40:34, Acts 2) Now the cloud descends on the new temple, our bodies. We are the Church, the body of Christ. This is Kingdom talk.(Mark 1:15) It’s happening now. It’s not complete but it’s happening. So the Body sends out angels, or messengers (though we like the word ‘angels’ instead, it’s much more Frank Peretti), to reap the harvest. This sounds like the same harvest Jesus sent his Disciples out to gather. The elect from every tongue, tribe and nation, Matthew 24:29-30 includes the tribe language also in chapter 28’s great comission.
We love to allegorize this stuff and turn it into a fantastic miraculous sci-fi drama. But really God uses human agents the way he always has. First he sent Jesus his son to the vineyard to collect the worship due him. They killed him.(Matthew 21.33-46) So in these verses, he uses Rome to judge Israel, not one stone remained on another. But that’s not the end, he comes in power, through us, through the Church. We have been conquering every tongue and tribe and nation to this day. The whole world has seen the return of the King, through us. There are still a few enclaves left, shining the light there is our mission. We don’t just wait for his will on earth as it is in heaven, we do it, we advocate for it. We build a world free from sin and death, starting with our own lives. We act like children of the king, blameless, yet battling the evil of this world. While we should beware of false doctrine, we should keep in mind who are real enemy is. Anyone who blasphemes the name of Jesus. Anyone refusing to submit to his commands and the blessings they bring.
The purpose of Romans 11 isn’t that we should sit around and wait for Jesus to do something with Israel. The point is that Israel was saved because from them came Jesus. They were punished for their rejection, but saved by the fact that Jesus and his disciples redeemed the whole world. Even in their rebellion they are a blessing because they are a warning to us. The point is that we shouldn’t get lazy, because God can just as soon cut the Gentiles out and put the Jews back in. It’s not a fatalistic prophecy, that will happen regardless of what we do. We are not Muhammedans. We are like a new Israel, we are a people set apart for God. If we abuse our task, we will be judged. But our task is not to be set apart, with our superior theology, lobbing grenades. Our task is to get everyone into the Kingdom. And because this truth is so glorious, Paul breaks out in song. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways” He doesn’t write a boring book of exegetical theology, he writes a book of exhortation and praise.
So burn your straw men, and get to the real work of actively bringing the Kingdom to the whole earth, by living a perfect sinless life as an example for those who are not in the club. Fight by praising his many works, despite the world around blaming him and us for every evil. They learned to blame and point fingers from us, the mighty Bible Believing Christians. But don’t just be Bible believers, be Bible doers.